Like any meaningful relationship, you have to stay invested in your audience for them to stay invested in you.

Most of our branding projects aren’t with new organizations. They’re with established businesses and nonprofits who have gradually become aware that their brand has grown outdated, and as a result, is failing to connect with their audience.

There’s no mystery as to why this happens. When brands first launch, they have a clear self-conception. They know who they are, who they’re trying to serve, and the exact pain points in their ecosystem that they’re trying to address. That alignment creates enough drive to push them through to initial success. They’ve found a formula that works, so it’s no surprise when they hold on to that formula for as long as it lasts.

But people change. Companies change. Markets change. New competitors develop new solutions to address new niches. Organizations need to adapt to survive.

Our clients are passionate about their organizations. They don’t just want to be influential leaders in their industry and successful nonprofits in their area of service, they also want to build an authentic connection with the customers they serve. This isn’t just a strategic priority—it’s a core value.

That said, keeping a finger on the pulse of customer relationships is easier said than done. It’s one thing to know that these touch points are important, and another to know how to implement them.

At build/create, we place a high value on offering practical, actionable advice. We’re not here to lecture—we’re here to empower. And, of course, if you need support with acting on any of our advice, we’re here for that, too. The following insights are based on practical expertise: pain points we’ve observed among our clients, and solutions we’ve implemented on their behalf, as well as in our own internal processes.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at actions you can take to keep your customer relationships flourishing.

Pain point: You don’t know what your audience is thinking.

“What do your clients think about your company?” is an intimidating question that many businesses find hard to answer. Many organizations point to sales figures or returning customer percentages as evidence that they’re doing well, but all these numbers really show is that customers are convinced for now. They do not prove brand loyalty or give any indication of whether the company is heading in the right direction.

Fortunately, most organizations do have plenty of built-in tools for listening to their audience. They’re just not aware of them because they’re focused on the wrong questions. Try answering these questions instead:

  • What are the most frequently fielded questions from your customer service team?
  • What are the most frequently asked questions the sales team receives when they give presentations?
  • Have you ever asked a client for a testimonial, and what did the client say?
  • Do you have social media channels, and do you receive comments on your posts?
  • Is your business listed on any online review sites, and what do the reviews say?

If these questions felt easier to answer, that’s because they’re objective data points that you can look up at any time. They might not give you a complete picture, but they are full of valuable insights that can help you build a stronger customer relationship.

Solution 1: Create mechanisms for gathering audience feedback.

Many organizations have built-in mechanisms for audience feedback. What they lack are processes for gathering that feedback in a way that makes it accessible to key decision makers on their leadership and marketing teams. Fixing that broken link may be all it takes to get the feedback you need.

Solution 2: Ask your customers directly.

To take things a step further, you can also run marketing initiatives for the express purpose of learning more about your audience. These include automated audience surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews with willing audience members.

Pain point: Your leadership and marketing teams aren’t on the same page.

Speaking as a business owner, I know how difficult it can be to shift gears from the day-to-day, high-level work of managing a company to paying attention to what my marketing team is telling me. It isn’t that I don’t value their work—I absolutely do. But I also believe in letting people do their jobs. I trust my team to know what they’re doing. I want them to feel empowered to do their best work without needing to run every decision across my desk.

But I also can’t expect them to read my mind. Over time I’ve come to see how the business priorities I have can become disconnected from our marketing efforts if we’re not communicating regularly. By contrast, the more aligned our objectives are, the more our efforts amplify each other.

All this has to do with marketing and leadership, but what does it have to do with a brand’s relationship with the audience? Here’s how.

Leadership and marketing often have different insights into both the brand and the customer relationships. While I may be having conversations with the organization leaders on the client side of things, our marketing team is talking with the marketing department. I’ll hear about the goals and priorities that are important to the C-suite. My team is in the trenches with the customer service representatives, learning about their support needs. If the solutions we pitch that end up in our service contracts don’t line up with the needs of the marketing team, then someone is going to feel overlooked.

Similarly, ground-level marketing insights should be reflected by the brand itself. If the experiences customers have when interacting with the brand don’t make it back up the chain, then it leaves leadership with a major blind spot when it comes to their customer relationships.

Solution 1: Schedule a periodic (i.e. annually, quarterly) review between leadership and marketing to establish buy-in.

Every year, I have an annual review with our clients to go over what we accomplished that year and discuss with them ways we can support their strategic objectives in the year to come. While it’s an excellent opportunity to get some face time with our customers, it’s also a chance for their leadership to give marketing their full attention. These meetings often set the tone for the next year of marketing, and are a crucial moment to check in and make sure that the brand, the marketing, and the audience needs are all in alignment.

Solution 2: Set monthly marketing checkpoints.

Our first solution was for leadership. This is for the marketing heads (i.e., the people our own team works with most closely). Marketing work is like a flywheel that you have to keep constantly spinning. It can often feel like there’s no end to the number of meetings your team has during the week, and it can still be difficult to keep track of everything going on.

We often feel that one of the best things we do for our clients is provide a check-in moment once a month where we can review the work we accomplished, establish what we’ll be focusing on for the next month, and measure our progress against the brand priorities we identified at the beginning of the year. It’s also a moment to make sure that the work you’re putting your energy into is also the work that will serve the customer the most.

Pain point: The need for new brand work has caught you off guard.

Brands are often surprised how quickly their resources fall out of date. We notice this most often in the web design work we do. Our client’s head of marketing will suggest to leadership that it’s time to redo the site, and the response is “but didn’t we just do that?” It isn’t until someone looks at a calendar that it sinks in that the shiny new site they “just” launched is already five years old.

Tellingly, the organizations we work with are often less surprised by the schedule itself than by the realization that they’re due again. Since we entered the world of digital marketing in 2010, we’ve watched our customers grow more aware of how important their website is for representing their brand and serving the needs of their customers. Increasingly, it has become an industry expectation that their website will need a major overhaul every few years, for the content, messaging, and resources, if not for the entire design.

We suggest that businesses use this opportunity to review all their brand resources. That includes:

  • Conducting internal interviews to check in with their company culture.
  • Performing a landscape analysis to examine how their industry is changing.
  • Reviewing their audiences to be sure they’re not missing or underserving key groups.
  • Updating brand standards as necessary, including colors, fonts, and imagery.

Routine updates can make a brand’s evolution over time more gradual, keeping the brand image fresh from year-to-year, and reducing the risk of losing brand recognition with a single major overhaul.

Nevertheless, being caught off guard can make it difficult to find the budget for this work, no matter how necessary it is. And it can be an added pain point if the resources being diverted toward branding work had been intended for use elsewhere.

Solution: Consider your branding work an operating expense rather than a capital expense.

Unlike capital expenditures, which are often one-off strategic investments, a brand refresh or website redesign usually happens on a consistent schedule. Use that schedule to your advantage. If you budget for the work, then when the time rolls round for an overhaul, you can approach it from a mindset of excitement and opportunity rather than seeing it as a necessary evil.

Brand work is never a one-and-done solution. The more you incorporate it into your routine, the stronger your efforts become.

To offer up a metaphor, building a strong brand relationship is like exercise. You can’t show up at the gym for a few weeks in January and expect to see results at the end of the year. Instead, a strong brand relationship is built over time through consistent efforts that yield incremental progress.

And if staying healthy when you work out means listening to your body, making adjustments when your routine stops working for you, and engaging in a variety of exercises to make sure that the whole system is supported and functioning in good order—well, it shouldn’t be hard to see the parallels between that and strengthening your customer relationships.

Published 10/03/22 by Eric Lynch